Dusk falls as Somax and Priam make their way to the bank of the river Scamander. Somax hops out of the cart to take a break, but Priam insists on staying in the wagon with the body of his son. Somax realizes that Priam’s mind has jumped ahead, but feels compassion for him, as he is also a father, and assures him that the treasure will be safe with the mule. Priam realizes his mistake, and Somax extends a hand to help him down from the bench so they can rest and eat before crossing the river, which is calm at the current time of the year. Somax, noticing that Priam seems lost, invites him to come and dip his feet in the water to cool down. Priam observes that although he is rough, Somax is full of modesty and goodwill.
As they rest, Somax also suggests food, and in turn, Priam suggests they eat alongside each other, prompting Somax to explain the origin of the griddle cakes he brought. Afterward, he offers Priam some wine. Priam tastes a griddle cake, and thinks about how the new can also be pleasurable. Musing on his boar hunts as an example, Priam thinks about how so much of his royal life artificially places him at the center of the action, but in this moment, everything is itself, and Priam feels at ease. He is getting a glimpse into others’ lives for the first time in decades, and it all feels new, as if he can taste the buttermilk as it’s being made.
Priam notes that Somax (who he refers to as his second Idaeus) has also been blessed with sons. But Somax replies that they have been taken from him and that all he has left now is a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. He reflects that his granddaughter, like all children, seems so fragile yet is so dear to him because she’s the last of his blood. He has lost all seven of his children, three sons and four daughters, some who died as infants, some who died as adults, all of whom were uniquely precious to him.
Hearing how deeply Somax misses his children and how well he knew them, Priam wonders if he can claim that he truly knows what it is to lose a son. He doesn’t remember his sons like Somax or Hecuba remember theirs; he doesn’t have any intimate memories with them like they do. Perhaps he regrets this, but he also recognizes the pain royal custom and distance saved him as his sons kept dying in the war. Somax shares that his last son died mere feet from where they are standing, swept away by the river off the mule he drives today, who is named Beauty. He has become fond of her, because she’s all he has left of him: her, the daughter-in-law, and the granddaughter. Overcome with emotion, he stops, and Priam looks away with tears in his eyes.
While they have been sitting, dusk has arrived, and they have to move on. The carter cleans up and dries the king’s feet as he steps out of the water. Priam puts his shoes on, and they return to the cart, only to stop as they see an intruder, a young boy. At first, Somax and the youth are ready to confront each other, but the boy announces that he is not a barbarian, but a Greek soldier named Orchilus, one of Achilles’ men sent to escort them. He reassures them that neither of them has a reason to be afraid for their lives or their treasure, because Achilles knows they are on the way and has sent someone to protect them.
Priam is suspicious, as is Somax, but Priam decides to go along with things as well. Somax, however, annoyed by Orchilus’ irreverence, is determined to resist, and tells the youth that they don’t need an escort while taking Priam aside to emphasize his suspicions. Priam is also wary of the youth’s charm, but senses something of a substance beneath it, an almost irresistible smell as Orchilus extends his hand and offers to help him up into the cart. Somax acquiesces after seeing that Priam agrees, although he remains furious as they cross the river.
Orchilus walks by their side as they wade through the river, and although there are a few touch and go moments, they get across safely, with treasure intact. As the moon rises, Priam looks out onto the fields that have been destroyed by war while Orchilus chatters away. He startles both of them by asking after Somax’s daughter-in-law’s limp. This surprises both Somax and Priam, who don’t understand how he could know so much about his life since they did not mention her. The youth notices this throws them off, and jokes about how he knows a lot more about Somax, like the fact that he has a temper and is a bit of a rogue. Normally, Somax would have lashed out at this, but something makes him pause.
Orchilus continues to talk, saying that he hopes they enjoy a good joke and asks them to forgive his youth. Somax tries to whisper his suspicions to Priam, wondering if the youth is really a man like the two of them. He overhears, however, and teases them that it’s no use whispering, since he’s got good ears, and asks who he is if he’s not a man. Priam realizes that it’s Hermes. Both he and the carter is shocked, which Hermes admits is understandable.
He says that he has been sent, but not by Achilles, and tells Priam to prepare, as they are approaching the Greek camp. Priam takes heart from Hermes’ presence, and from the fact that earlier, he called Priam “father,” something which acts as an endorsement and a blessing coming from a god. Hermes touches his arm, and Priam feels a burst of energy run through him as they reach the trench before the encampment.
From within the camp, the guards watch as the enormous pole barred the gate’s entrance seems to lift untouched. They stand and stare as the gate swings open to reveal a covered wagon with two old men, driven by two black mules. The cart continues on into the camp, the gates close behind them and the bar drops back into the lock as the men wonder at what they have seen.
This section is centered around the brief relationship that Priam and Somax build. Somax, despite the difference between their places in society, is able to see Priam as an aging father who lost his son when he realizes that Priam is a little bit lost. Rather than be judgmental, Somax's offer of compassion, help, and companionship shows his ability to look past the king to see the man that Priam is. Similarly, Priam's acceptance of his offer gives him the capacity to see beyond Somax's roughness and sense the goodness inside him.
The griddle cakes also demonstrate the power of the good and simple. Something as easy as sharing a meal can become very meaningful, and food becomes a way that Priam can relate to Somax's life and imagine what it must be like. In letting himself taste the griddlecake, Priam is able to see the world from a different point of view, one in which he is not at the center of the action all of the time. It reorients his entire viewpoint.
The effects of this shift in perspective are seen in the difference between his reaction to his sons' loss and Somax's. Somax, who is not at the center of the action, has the opportunity to love and cherish his children, which makes it all the more painful when he loses them. Priam, as a king, doesn't have the luxury to be that close to his sons. But despite his claim that this is better than grieving, Malouf gives the impression that Somax wouldn't trade the love he had for his children just because it makes his grief worse. His love for his children is obvious in his love for his granddaughter and for his mule Beauty.
Orchilus is clearly not who he seems from the beginning, but Priam's perception serves him well and lets him sense that whoever Orchilus is, he doesn't mean them harm. Gods in disguise are a common theme throughout Greek mythology, but at the point in time that the Trojan War takes place, the days of heroes and gods walking the earth are considered pretty much over. That's likely a big part of the reason that Priam and Somax don't initially guess that their visitor might be immortal. But notably, it is Somax's good sense, not Priam's sensitivity, that alerts them to the fact that Orchilus is, in fact, Hermes in disguise.
Although Hermes never reveals who sent him, it's safe to assume that the gods are on Priam's side in this endeavor, even if they won't interfere. This reveals that even the gods are shocked and disturbed by Achilles' actions, but also that the gods are limited by how much they can interfere in human affairs. Hermes can give Priam a boost, but he can't rescue Achilles for him. He can give them his blessing, but not an assurance that nothing will happen to them. He can open the doors of the Greek camp, but can't lead them through. As Iris mentioned earlier, the most important elements of this plan will ultimately be left up to chance.